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Religion and Society

The strategy of public space

Multiculturalism' is not the name of a solution it is the name of a problem. The project of co-existence between different ethnic, religious and cultural traditions on the sole basis of the recognition of their right to exist is not a suitable response to the problem of life together in society. As confirmation of this one can observe that multicultural policies so understood lead to the sociologically demonstrated result not of integration but of the juxtaposition of communities, to a co-existence without relations that slides towards communities becoming strangers in relation to one another, to the marginalisation of the weakest communities, the segregation of those that are most cohesive, the exaltation of the authoritarian power of community chiefs, and the creation of uncontrollable hidden powers and of forms of protected illegality etc.

 

 

On the other hand, a model of living together in society in line with the principle of the greatest possible assimilation to the cultural traditional of the country of immigration is not a valid alternative to the multiculturalist project. Neither, for that matter, is the project of the greatest public neutralisation of cultural specificities in favour of a 'secular' citizenship on the current French model.

 

 

One needs, therefore, to think employing an approach of 'interculturality' in order to discern the process of integration and synergy in which differences may find the effective form of their unity. Politics, therefore, in its institutional dimension should be readdressed so that its task of creating and assuring the 'public area' of dialogue makes a correct intercultural dialectic of identity possible. The question of interculturality, therefore, may be defined as the 'foundation and cultivation of the public area' of the interacting roles and the dialectic between different cultural and ethnic identities. The historic task is thus that of deriving from the liberal tradition a dual space: that of the 'social presence' of multicultural ethnicities and that of their 'political communication'.

 

 

The first question only receives a suitable answer within a reassessment of the role of civil society. Indeed, neither the mere insertion at the level of employment of the foreigner into the circuit of the free market (contemporary immigrants are not a mere foreign work force in search of a job but are seen for the most part as subjects who belong to specific communities), nor the mere recognition of citizenship of a state provide a sufficient prospect for the process of integration. Instead, it is necessary to make a real civil dialectic possible which, however, has as its condition the maturation of an awareness that does not accept the partition of the social between the state 'public' and the market 'private' but upholds the autonomous consistency, indeed the socio-political primacy, of the 'non-state civil public'.

 

 

This also means a reassessment of the 'civil public role of religions' in the direction of an overcoming of the modern divarication of religion and politics (this is obsolete after the crisis of ideologies, i.e. of substitutive political religions), although not for this reason in a fundamentalist sense but as cultural agents of a fundamental civil dialectic.

 

 

The Common Good and Political Communication

 

 

The second question concerns 'social communication' as a fundamental fact and a heritage that is shared, active and meaningful prior to every negotiation and reflex regulation. By social communication I mean the complex event of interaction, exchange, common action and so forth that constitutes an 'always shared good'. One could make the objection that in a multicultural situation collaboration and co-operation are circumstances to be achieved rather than a point of departure. But this is not true in an absolute sense because however occasional, fragmentary, suspicious and insecure it may be, a minimum of communicative exchange between the different has always existed, except when a situation has degenerated into marginalisation or conflict.

 

 

The problem, rather, is that the initial social event should become a political fact, something that is possible to the extent to which it is knowingly and voluntarily adopted as a 'common good', that is to say an event that in any event joins and should be promoted (in extreme cases even as a lesser evil). To summarise: the political body is born when the pursuit of social communication itself is established as a shared end.

 

 

There is thus a 'formal sense of the common good' stewarded by the political that is also suited to the society of post-modern pluralism and the society of ethnic-cultural multiculturalism because it does not require any prior agreement on value contents other than 'the value itself of being in society'. The political coincides at this level with 'the permanent institution' of the area of communication, that is to say of the dialogue between the diverse, of co-operation, and of conflict itself in so much as it is acknowledged and regulated.

 

 

This means that the good of communication follows the 'boundary of political participation', distinguishing those who acknowledge its tie from those who do not acknowledge it and exclude themselves from it. In this sense, the political impossibility of a co-existence of any cultural component solely because it exists and even more of those forms that contradict the good of social communication (fundamentalism, anarchism, terrorism, separatism, hidden sectarianism, etc.) becomes immediately evident.

 

 

This prospect of the practical institution of the political does not end with its formal constitutional profile because it is open to receiving all these value contents that the different traditions concretely share. Indeed, the encounter/clash of different traditions and overall conceptions marks off a field of forms of sharing and exclusion and is defined and redefined on the basis of a historic negotiation that is being constantly updated. At this level the 'common good' is no longer only formally social communication but is filled with 'contents' (economic and social practices, value, moral and spiritual patrimonies) that are differently identified according to the different contexts and the specific political negotiations. In this way, on the stable canvas of the shared and regulated project of communication pluralism can find the area of its innumerable variations without being subjected to the imposition of impossible homogeneities and without destroying the co-existence of the different.

 

 

The Dialectic of Participation

 

 

Membership of a political society guarantees the fair right to organisation, expression and defence. But it also leaves intact the freedom of the interplay of forces and prevailing elements, including the prevalence of the cultural component that constitutes a majority within society, which is normally also the protagonist of the history of a society and its national state and which thus has the duty both to admit to political communication those who ask for it and are in a condition to perform it, and the right to protect and propose its own heritage of history, culture, traditions, customs etc. in a loyal dialogue and in transparent negotiation with those who have arrived. It is the social and cultural dialectic in conditions of fairness of interlocution that will decide the prevailing elements and/or the forms of mixture in the long term. In general, therefore, one is not dealing with conserving or promoting differences as such (the problem of so-called 'cultural rights') but of establishing political conditions so that these can preserve themselves, promote themselves and enter into dialogue with each other according to their real capacities.

 

 

To sum up: to approach the problem of multiculturalism according to the criterion of intercultural 'political communication' allows a saving both of the value of difference and of the principle of equal dignity in line with a formula of the following kind: 'assurance of the rights and ties of cultural differences in the equal dignity of their political participation'. In practical terms, the historical phenomenon of interculturality derives from the synergy of two factors: a 'free civil dialectic' between social, cultural and religious subjects and 'state public intervention' which must take decisions in accordance with the living together in society of differences, basing itself on the heritage of values of which it is the expression.

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